House conservatives cast doubt on GOP leaders' shutdown strategy

House conservatives cast doubt on GOP leaders' shutdown strategy
© Greg Nash

House conservatives said Friday that they opposed GOP leaders' proposal to keep the government funded up to a few days before Christmas, throwing a wrench into plans to avoid a shutdown. 

Republicans emerged from a conference meeting on Friday divided over a strategy to avoid a government shutdown when funding runs out in one week.

GOP leaders had proposed passing a two-week stopgap measure next week to keep the government funded through Dec. 22 so that lawmakers could have time to work out a budget deal.

Congress would then pass another short-term spending measure into January to give appropriators time to write a massive, trillion-dollar omnibus package to keep the government funded through September 2018.

ADVERTISEMENT

But conservatives worry that a deadline so close to Christmas will result in a spending package loaded with extraneous items they won't like.

"Everybody knows we don't want to have a two-week [stopgap] right before Christmas, load up a Christmas tree. And it's never good," said Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.), a member of the House Freedom Caucus.

“Everybody wants to get back to their families. That’s not the way to do rational budgeting. So let’s just take the hurry out of it, push it off into January, do rational policy,” Brat said.

House GOP leaders planned to survey members on the floor during Friday votes to see if a two-week stopgap has the votes to pass.

Rep. Mark WalkerBradley (Mark) Mark WalkerOn The Money: Midterms to shake up House finance panel | Chamber chief says US not in trade war | Mulvaney moving CFPB unit out of DC | Conservatives frustrated over big spending bills Conservatives left frustrated as Congress passes big spending bills Trump's Puerto Rico tweets spark backlash MORE (R-N.C.), chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee (RSC), put the odds of passage at “50-50.”

"The whip count didn't come back very encouragingly on this,” he said after votes.

Walker said that the RSC might take a formal position on the plan sometime today, though he noted that it may be difficult with members flying back to their districts on Friday.

“Most of the guys are undecided. Some of the guys are struggling with maybe having to take this vote two times,” Walker told reporters.

But “learning more about what might be included” in the continuing resolution (CR), like whether or not it addresses defense anomalies, may help make up members’ minds, he added.

Rep. Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsRepublicans threaten to subpoena Nellie Ohr Conservatives left frustrated as Congress passes big spending bills Graham to renew call for second special counsel MORE (R-N.C.), chairman of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, also expressed doubts on whether leadership’s strategy would work.

“I don’t know,” he told reporters. “If the Democrats are willing to vote for the short-term CR, I think that we do it. If not, there will be other options out there for us.”

Conservatives weren’t convinced that GOP leaders have a clear strategy for what would come after Dec. 22.

“If it’s two weeks so that we go and do an orgy of spending right before Christmas that throws Christmas tree stuff on the bill, no. If it’s two weeks because we want to do something to actually advance our priorities, then I would be willing to listen to that. But I don’t have assurance that’s going to be the case,” said Rep. Ron DeSantisRonald Dion DeSantisDeSantis ally called Obama racial slur on Twitter Election Countdown: Trump confident about midterms in Hill.TV interview | Kavanaugh controversy tests candidates | Sanders, Warren ponder if both can run | Super PACs spending big | Two states open general election voting Friday | Latest Senate polls DeSantis says doesn't 'think anything's changed' between him and Trump MORE (R-Fla.), another Freedom Caucus member.

One of the other potential options would be a five-week CR that punts spending talks into the new year — a strategy preferred by many conservatives, who believe they will have more leverage to get a better deal under that scenario.

But it’s unclear whether Democrats and even some Republicans would go along with that idea.

Many Democrats and Rep. Carlos CurbeloCarlos Luis CurbeloThe Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by Better Medicare Alliance — Cuomo wins and Manafort plea deal Hillicon Valley: North Korean IT firm hit with sanctions | Zuckerberg says Facebook better prepared for midterms | Big win for privacy advocates in Europe | Bezos launches B fund to help children, homeless Bipartisan trio asks US intelligence to investigate ‘deepfakes’ MORE (R-Fla.) have vowed to oppose spending legislation that stretches into 2018 if it doesn’t contain a fix for former President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that grants work permits to certain young undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children.

Curbelo, however, said he would “probably” support a clean two-week CR, even without DACA.

And Democrats have so far been reluctant to weigh in on the tentative CR plan.

“Look, we don’t have any facts. The rumors are flying,” said Rep. Nita LoweyNita Sue LoweyCongress sends first spending package to Trump in push to avert shutdown The stakes are sky-high for the pro-life cause in the upcoming midterms Dems urge Mattis to reject using 0M for border wall MORE (D-N.Y.), ranking member on the House Appropriations Committee. ‘“When I have the facts, then I’ll discuss them. Right now we don’t.”

A senior Democratic aide said that Democrats will review what Republicans introduce. But for now, Democrats are keeping their cards close to their vests.
 
"But if they need our votes to fund the government, then they should reach out to us and work in a serious way toward real compromise," the aide said.

Other GOP lawmakers support the idea of a two-week CR to keep the appropriations process moving.

“Pushing this thing into January would be a huge mistake. I’m afraid that means we’re pushing it to Sept. 30,” said Rep. Bradley ByrneBradley Roberts ByrneFive GOP lawmakers mulling bid to lead conservative caucus House votes to overhaul fishery management law The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by Better Medicare Alliance — Expensive and brutal: Inside the Supreme Court fight ahead MORE (R-Ala.).

Defense hawks have been demanding a spending boost for the Pentagon. Setting a Dec. 22 deadline puts pressure on Congress to at least strike a deal on top-line spending numbers for fiscal 2018 before skipping town for Christmas.

– Scott Wong contributed to this report.

– This report was updated at 12:44 p.m.